- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

She reluctantly offered her first name only after I agreed not to print it. She agreed to be interviewed only on the phone. She is only “scared for my life.”

“I was ready to sleep in a garbage can if that is what it takes to get out of there,” said this 43-year-old woman, who has been living with her children for weeks in a room in the Family Crisis Center Inc.

Without this small shelter, which sleeps 20 battered and abused women and their children at a time, this woman and countless others like her wouldn’t know what to do or where to go for help. It is the only one of its kind operating in Prince George’s County.

On Sunday, WHUR-96.3 FM will hold its second annual, 12-hour “Give Me Shelter” radiothon, seeking to expand services at the Family Crisis Center “and provide a safe haven for women and children who have been in harm’s way,” said Renee J. Nash, WHUR public affairs director.

Last year, Ms. Nash said the event raised $140,000 to help victims of domestic violence, with Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson donating $70,000 in county funds. He is expected renew that pledge, according to his wife, Leslie.

“There is a critical need to expand what they are doing because there is only one [shelter] and it is totally inadequate for the number of abused women in the county,” said Mrs. Johnson, who will volunteer again during the fund-raiser this year.

Mrs. Johnson said her interest in domestic violence stems from her childhood when she accompanied her mother to rescue an aunt from an abusive situation.

“I made a commitment that would not happen again … and we want to help those people living in fear any way we can,” she said.

Besides her involvement in women’s health, education, literacy and domestic violence issues, Mrs. Johnson is a lawyer who met her husband at Howard University’s School of Law. She also is the co-founder of the Sister to Sister mentoring program, which assists women incarcerated in the county jail.

Prince George’s has the second-highest rate of domestic violence in the state, with 1,200 protective orders filed in the sheriff’s department each month, according to Denise McCain, executive director of the Family Crisis Center.

She added that 4,595 cases for protective orders were filed in civil court during the past fiscal year, and 279 protective orders were issued in criminal court in that period.

Prince George’s officials last year created a domestic violence task force after several high-profile cases in which women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. In one case, a woman was killed by her husband hours after they had appeared in court and the case was dropped against him. He committed suicide.

Ms. McCain said that “at the county level, everyone has initiated something” to combat domestic violence.

The police department now makes domestic violence calls a priority. The sheriff’s department accepts requests for protective orders “24/7” instead of regular business hours. The State’s Attorney’s Office has a special unit to handle domestic violence cases, and there is a branch of the civil court run by Judge Patrice Lewis, who is chairwoman of the domestic violence coordinating council.

Besides making sorely needed structural renovations to the Family Crisis Center, Ms. McCain said more funding was needed to increase bed space. Last fiscal year, they sheltered 110 women and 115 children, and answered more than 5,600 hot-line calls. With a federal block grant from the Housing and Urban Development Department, they plan to purchase a transitional house for women who are ready to leave the shelter but have not secured permanent housing.

Ms. McCain said her nonprofit group would like to expand its bilingual outreach and intervention programs in the Langley Park area. In addition, they would like to increase the number of victims they can serve in the legal advocacy program and the number of abusers they can accommodate in their intervention counseling program. Last year, they worked with 1,500.

National statistics indicate that one-third of U.S. women report being physically or sexually abused by their husbands or boyfriends at least once during their lifetimes. Studies also indicate that the abuser becomes more volatile when the abused tries to end the relationship.

“I’m not going back to that house, I cannot go back there, I cannot go back there, there is no way I can go back, no, I just can’t,” the 43-year-old woman repeated as she talked about the terrorizing home she shared with her abusive husband for nearly two decades.

“I came to the realization that nothing is worth my life,” she said after her husband became increasingly violent during the past year.

The “little shove here or there” started soon after their marriage. She tolerated those for years until he started throwing things at her.

With the help of her eldest son, this woman opened the Yellow Pages and called several social service agencies and shelters until she found refuge at the Family Crisis Center. She said she had “always felt helpless” before going to the Family Crisis Center, where she has received counseling, support and a transitional home she is scheduled to move into later this month.

“Talking to people [at the center] strengthened me” she said, adding: “I don’t have to accept the things [my husband] says about me.”

Her advice to other abused women: “If it don’t feel right, it’s not right, no matter what anybody tells you.”

This battered woman’s story is atypical in that she had a good enough job to use the center’s resources and move forward with her life. Others are not so lucky.

“You don’t know what it’s like not to have someone waking you up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning accusing you of things, or just having some basic peace,” she said. “All I’m praying for my life is some peace. Just leave me alone and let me be who I am.”

Just “some peace” and self-respect doesn’t seem such a big request. No one should have to live “scared for my life.”

The “Give Me Shelter” radiothon will be broadcast on WHUR-96.3 FM from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday from the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex, 8001 Sheriff Road, Landover.

To make donations, call 301/583-2650 during those hours. For more information or to volunteer, call Renee Nash at 202/806-3623.

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